JCAL kicks off 50th season with poet 1

Danny Simmons, a Jamaica philanthropist, author, poet and co-founder of “Def Poetry Jam” will kick-off JCAL’s 50th season celebration.

The Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning will start off its 50th season on Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. via an art residency with Danny Simmons entitled “Homecoming.”

Simmons, a Jamaica native who is a philanthropist, neo-African abstract expressionist painter, published author, poet and the co-founder of the original “Def Poetry Jam” that was aired on HBO (2002 - 2007), will showcase the culmination of his work on June 18, 2022.

Simmons, the artist honoree, will be paired with two-time Grammy-winning jazz bassist Ron Carter, the most-recorded (2,221 recording sessions) musician of his kind in history, according to the JCAL in a prepared statement. The Saturday performance that initiates the golden season for the art center will be held at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center located at 153-10 Jamaica Ave.

The idea for the residency arose a year ago from JCAL interim Executive Director Leonard Jacobs, when Covid-19 prevented in-person meetings but offered time to dream, according to the statement.

“Danny has been a visionary for the scope of his residency but also what it means for JCAL — where Danny has had so much history,” said Jacobs in a statement. “2022 marks a half-century since a group of visual artists forged an arts institution in a shuttered Jamaica Avenue landmark, motivated by the belief that arts and culture is the birthright of everyone in our community, borough and beyond. Danny is the living embodiment of this spirit — what it means to live the artists’ life, and of the importance of giving back.”

“I am so looking forward to starting this residency and ultimately receiving an honor for JCALs 50th anniversary ... reading poetry with the great Ron Carter and the other performers is such a huge validation of many years of writing poetry,” said Simmons in an email via JCAL. “Creating 20 new paintings and a retrospective art exhibition in their two galleries is a dream come true. Finally to bring Def Poetry to Queens where I grew up is amazing. This whole experience is simply beautiful, I’ve really come full circle back home to Jamaica Queens where I was born and at the place where I had my first art exhibition. It’s the stuff of dreams made real.”

Joining Simmons and the jazz bassist will be host and guest performer Lezlie Harrison and Carter’s Golden Striker Trio, which includes Russell Malone and Mulgrew Miller, and spoken word artists Ursula Rucker, Derick Cross and Bonafide Rojas, according to the JCAL. The $20 tickets for the kick-off event can be found at eventbrite.com under Homecoming featuring Danny Simmons with Ron Carter.

The event is presented in association with KMW Studio. On Feb. 5, 2022, Simmons will premiere a retrospective that includes new works, and pieces from throughout his career, added the arts center. In the spring, Simmons is expected to participate in two public artist talks so that audiences can get an in-depth perspective of the multi-disciplinary craftsman’s process. In June, there will be a reunion of the very first “Def Poetry Jam” members.

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